Congratulations Stephanie Izard! You just won Top Chef. It was a little touch and go there for awhile. The way the judges were talking, I thought for sure they were going to surprise us all and announce Lisa as the winner.
Why? Well, Tom Colicchio has been quoted as saying that they don't judge the chefs cumulatively over the season, so they were just judging on what they ate last night. And it seemed like the judges liked Lisa's food more than they did Stephanie and Richard. However, looking back, they all seemed to love Stephanie's lamb chops with braised pistachios, mushrooms and blackberries. Tom C. said that the food surprised him, and my gay husband Ted Allen mentioned that he thought more chefs should use pistachios in food.
Poor Richard, he pulled a Casey from last season and choked. And he was a big enough man that he admitted that he choked at the judges table. Many of his dishes were criticized for being underseasoned, his pork belly was not crispy enough, the one dish that the judges seemed to like unreservedly was his banana scallop and bacon ice cream (more successful than Marcel's avocado ice cream of season 2). However, Padma mentioned that Richard had won a Quickfire challenge with the banana scallop earlier in the competition.
Still, I had a feeling that Stephanie was going to win it. She and Richard had been head to head in winning both Elimination Challenges, although Richard had also won a good number of the Quickfire Challenges. From the beginning, I sensed that those two would be in the finale, although I could have sworn that Dale would be joining them along with Antonia (oh well 3 out of 4 ain't bad).
I loved the idea that they repeated from last season of having well known chefs acting as sous-chefs to the cheftestants in the finale. Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin (I have never eaten here but an old boss of mine at Cartier was very good friends with the owner. You would think he might have taken me to lunch there to say thank you for all the times I ran out to get him cigarettes but what can you expect from the French?), April Bloomfield from The Spotted Pig (I have eaten here, and the night I was there David Schwimmer was also at the restaurant. I'm telling you I'm a celebrity magnet) and Dan Barber from Blue Hill (I've walked past it but they serve mainly meat and offal).
It was interesting to see Stephanie hovering over Eric Ripert as he scaled the red snapper. And his comment about watching Richard and his molecular gastronomy, that if a chef ever thinks he's learned everything, he's sunk. Gordon Ramsay could learn from some of these chefs that guest on Top Chef. Even Bourdain knows when to be humble.
It used to be that the winner of the show was given money to start a restaurant, but let's face it, $100,000 doesn't go far no matter where you live in terms of opening a fine dining establishment. If you wanted to buy a Subway franchise maybe. So now they just get $100,000 to do whatever they want with the money, plus a great trip to the Swiss Alps.
So good luck Stephanie, and I hope to come and eat in your restaurant the next time I'm in Chicago.